Background: The authors used the American Society of Anesthesiologists Closed Claims Project database to determine changes in the proportion of claims for death or permanent brain damage over a 26-yr period and to identify factors associated with the observed changes.
Methods: The Closed Claims Project is a structured evaluation of adverse outcomes from 6,894 closed anesthesia malpractice claims. Trends in the proportion of claims for death or permanent brain damage between 1975 and 2000 were analyzed.
Results: Claims for death or brain damage decreased between 1975 and 2000 (odds ratio, 0.95 per year; 95% confidence interval, 0.94-0.96; P < 0.01). The overall downward trend did not seem to be affected by the use of pulse oximetry and end-tidal carbon dioxide monitoring, which began in 1986. The use of these monitors increased from 6% in 1985 to 70% in 1989, and thereafter varied from 63% to 83% through the year 2000. During 1986-2000, respiratory damaging events decreased while cardiovascular damaging events increased, so that by 1992, respiratory and cardiovascular damaging events occurred in approximately the same proportion (28%), a trend that continued through 2000.
Conclusion: The significant decrease in the proportion of claims for death or permanent brain damage from 1975 through 2000 seems to be unrelated to a marked increase in the proportion of claims where pulse oximetry and end-tidal carbon dioxide monitoring were used. After the introduction and use of these monitors, there was a significant reduction in the proportion of respiratory and an increase in the proportion of cardiovascular damaging events responsible for death or permanent brain damage.